It’s apparent that the we try to get the most bang for our buck in terms of total calories rather than nutrient density. The United Health Foundation confirms that the obesity rate in America is increasing, despite the fact that we continue to spend less and less on food. A dollar’s worth of junk food has about 3 times the calories than a dollar of fresh produce. What are we really getting out these values? They contribute to health problems such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. There are also environmental impacts to consider such as water and air pollution, garbage, and deforestation. Some people try to save a few dollars on food, but then they use those savings to buy fat burners and fad diets to counteract the negative impact of the cheap food. There are some who have to settle for cheap food however, not because they necessarily want to but because they have to. In terms of a society, we don’t have much of a problem with macro-nutrients, the problem is with micro-nutrients.
So what makes cheap food – cheap? And by cheap I mean having low cost and lacking micro-nutrients. One reason is that highly processed foods last longer. The result of a longer shelf-life is that these foods can be mass produced with little fear of them expiring before they’re purchased. The major reason, however, has to do with government subsidies. Our government provides billions of dollars in subsidies for farmers to grow specific items. The majority of this money goes to corn and wheat. The result of these subsidies is that corn and wheat is mass produced at a level that exceeds the demand for it on a whole-grain level. The outcome is that corn and wheat are milled, separated, and sold as individual parts. The least nutritious of these individual parts is the endosperm, which is used from corn to make high fructose corn syrup and is used from wheat to make white flour. Two very common ingredients in our junk food! The remaining parts are sold for use in various industrial applications, cattle feed, and used to enrich some foods.
Quick trivia question – How many of these billions in subsidies goes to farmers who produce fruits and vegetables? If you went with zero, you are not cynical, you are correct! According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if Americans followed the current USDA recommendations for daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, then in one year 127,000 lives and $17 billion could be saved. Even if we were to have just one more serving each day then 30,000 lives and 5 billion in medical costs could be saved for the year.
We all have opinions on how to fix this problem. I don’t want to get off topic and start rattling out ideas that will have no affect on our representatives in Washington. However, I will make some suggestions on what we can do at an individual level. I’ll start by saying that snacking is important. It helps us to have sustained energy, a higher metabolism, and helps us to not overeat at meal time. The problem is we most often crave foods that are high in fats, sugars, and sodium. We have to find a way to satisfy these cravings, without loading up on empty calories.
My solution is to give yourself a variety of options with some do-it-yourself snack building. The idea is to have an assortment of ingredients (with micro-nutrient qualities) that you combine as your craving’s desire (and your budget allows). The following list gives an idea of some ingredients to have on hand. Get creative and add, remove, or substitute as you like. Remember to buy low sodium, light, or no sugar added whenever possible…
– Fruit (Dried and/or Fresh)
- Dark Chocolate
- Yogurt Covered Raisins (but make your own, if you have time, rather than buying from a store)
- Dark Chocolate Espresso Beans
- Whole Grain Pretzels
- Peanut Butter
- Coconut Oil
- Rolled Oats
- Whole Grain Bagel
- Whole Grain Bread
With some of these ingredients you can make your own granola then add it to yogurt along with some fruit. You can also make your own energy bars. If you’re on the run then put together a quick trail mix. If you’d like something hot then make some oatmeal with a combination of fruits and nuts or toast some bagels and apply whichever spread sounds good to you. Adding cinnamon will not only add flavor, but the health benefits of cinnamon (spcifically ceylon cinnamon) are abundant. If you’d like to have even more snack options then add beans, cheese, whole grain tortilla chips, and salsa to the list of ingredients you have on hand. But if you must have a candy-bar then go for the smaller one. Just because the king size butterfinger has a better price per unit than the smaller size, don’t try to fool yourself that you’ll eat half now and the other half tomorrow. We typically eat according to portion size.
Finally, don’t let the pre-packaged store options limit you. The pre-packaged snacks are either cheap because they have inferior ingredients or they have quality ingredients but are much more expensive than simply making by yourself. Save money and save your healthy by snacking sensibly.